AL Playoff Chase is Wide Open in 2013

Which team will take the pennant in 2013? Photo Courtesy: Katie Slusarski
Which team will take the pennant in 2013? Photo Courtesy: Katie Slusarski

By Mark Miller

Combine a second wild-card spot with the surprise performances of some squads last season and major improvement of others this winter and spring and the result should be a wide open 2013 season for the American League.

When the 2012 season ended, eight teams won at least 85 games and were within five games of a playoff spot. This year, at least 10 teams, including all five in the American League East, have a legitimate chance of playing in October.

Baseball’s version of parity has finally arrived which makes it a great time to be a fan whether you root for the Texas Rangers or one of their opponents. Here’s a look at the American League for 2013:

AL West
As if the Rangers and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim weren’t enough of bitter rivals, former Ranger Josh Hamilton’s arrival in Southern California makes it even deeper. Figure the Angels to be even hungrier after failing to make the playoffs after adding former Rangers’ ace pitcher C.J. Wilson, Albert Pujols and Zach Greinke.

The Angels have perhaps the best outfield in baseball with 2012 Rookie of the Year Mike Trout, Hamilton, Peter Bourjos and Vernon Wells. Add in first baseman Pujols, second baseman Howie Kendrick and designated hitter Mark Trumbo and it’s easy to see why the Angels will not have any trouble scoring runs. Whether they stop the opposition is in question as there’s little in the rotation behind Wilson and Jarod Weaver and the bullpen is questionable.

Nobody thought the Oakland A’s had a chance to make the playoffs, much less win the division last year. The heart of the A’s offense is the outfieldof Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp and Josh Reddick. The pitching staff is anchored by youngsters Brett Anderson (age 25), Jarrod Parker (24), Tommy Milone (26), A.J. Griffin (25) and Dan Straily (24). Veteran Grant Balfour (35) returns as the closer.

The Seattle Mariners and newcomers Houston Astros need an A’s type surprise to finish ahead of the other three. Seattle’s offseason pickups focused on veterans Raul Ibanez, Jason Bay and Kendryf Morales. The Mariners still feature former Rangers Justin Smoak at first base and Blake Beavan as one of the starters behind ace Felix Hernandez.

Houston has a new manager in Bo Porter to take on a new league and division.

1. Los Angeles 93-69
2. Texas 88-74
3. Oakland 86-76
4. Seattle 72-90
5. Houston 66-96

AL Central
The Tigers won their second-straight division title anchored by Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera and first baseman Prince Fielder. With newcomer Torii Hunter in right field and the injured Victor Martinez at designated hitter, plus the Jason Justin Verlander-led pitching staff, the Tigers are the clear favorite to win this division again.

The Chicago White Sox again will be led by Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko on offense, and a strong pitching rotation of Chris Sale, Jake Peavy, John Danks and Gavin Floyd. Kansas City improved in 2012 led by designated hitter Billy Butler, outfielder Alex Gordon and young Lorenzo Cain (center field) and Alcides Escobar (shortstop). The addition of righthanders James Shields and Ervin Santana will greatly improve the starting pitching.

Cleveland improved itself by adding veterans Nick Swisher at first base, center fielder Michael Bourn and designated hitter Mark Reynolds. But the Indians will rely on a young starting staff anchored by 28-year-old Justin Masterson.

1. Detroit 90-72
2. Chicago 82-82
3. Kansas City 80-82
4. Cleveland 75-87
5. Minnesota 70-92

AL East
As hard as it was to believe the Baltimore Orioles won 93 games last year, it was equally puzzling that the Boston Red Sox won only 69. The problem for both this year is the emergence of the Toronto Blue Jays, steadiness of the Tampa Bay Rays and mere presence of the New York Yankees. This figures to be the toughest division in the league. Thanks to the additions of shortstop Jose Reyes, outfielder Melky Cabrera, and starting pitchers R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson, the Blue Jays have gone from pretenders to division favorites. With holdovers Jose Bautista in left field, Edwin Encarnacion at first base and starters Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow, it’s no wonder.

Pitching still anchors Tampa Bay led by starters David Price, Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore and closer Fernando Rodney. First baseman James Loney comes over from the Los Angeles Dodgers to join third baseman Evan Longoria, outfielder Ben Zobrist to anchor the offense.

How healthy their players are will determine the fate of the New York Yankees. First baseman Mark Teixeira, shortstop Derek Jeter, third baseman Alex Rodriguez and closer Mariano Rivera either have or will miss time. While second baseman Robinson Cano and starting pitchers C.C. Sabathia are back and the team added Kevin Youkilis to play third base, the Yankees have more question marks than in recent years.

Any team with holdovers David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury plus added Mike Napoli at first base and Shane Victorino in right field can’t be too bad. Plus the Boston Red Sox have starting pitcher like Jon Lester, Clay Buckholz, John Lackey and Ryan Dempster. So last year should be a distant memory.

1 Toronto 92-74
2. Tampa Bay 89-73
3. New York 87-75
4. Baltimore 86-76
5. Boston 83-79